Kennedy Krieger Researchers Attempt to Pinpoint Source of Needle Anxiety in Children

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January 05, 2004
National Institutes of Health funds innovative study

Baltimore - Researchers at Kennedy Krieger Institute are investigating why some children are at ease with receiving needle injections, while other children become anxious and distressed. The NIH-funded study aims to identify children who are more likely to become distressed and formulate techniques to help make administering injections easier.

The outcome of the study will be especially beneficial to children with health conditions, such as diabetes or growth hormone deficiencies, who require weekly or daily injections. Little is known about how to predict which children will have high anxiety and distress over needle injections; this study aims to help caregivers and parents better manage children's reactions.

"Unfortunately, in order to stay healthy, these children need to receive injections frequently," says Keith J. Slifer, Ph.D., director of the Pediatric Psychology Program in the Department of Behavioral Psychology at Kennedy Krieger and the principal investigator for this study. "We are attempting to predict which children will exhibit this anxiety and to recommend how caregivers can help to decrease distress."

Children ages 2 to 10 are being enrolled for the study, which consists of three hour-long visits to the Pediatric Psychology Program at Kennedy Krieger. Researchers observe and film the children during non-medical play activities and while caregivers administer injections.

Parents are asked to answer questions about their child's typical reaction to injections and the steps already taken to make the process more pleasant. At the time of the visit, caregivers also are offered information and training to help decrease both their child's and their own distress over injections, using general behavior management and distraction techniques.

"While receiving injections is never going to be a fun activity for a child, through this research, we are seeking to make it less traumatic," says Dr. Slifer.

Kennedy Krieger Institute is dedicated to helping children and adolescents with disabilities resulting from disorders of the brain achieve their potential and participate as fully as possible in family, community and school life. For more information about Kennedy Krieger Institute, visit

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